Going out for a romantic meal is always a treat; it’s something out of the ordinary, a perfect excuse to slip on a little black dress, order a couple of fancy cocktails, devour scrumptious course after course and top it all off with a decadently rich dessert. But while we can all appreciate the pleasure that accompanies a wonderful meal out on the town, there’s something particularly special and possibly even more romantic about a meal that’s prepared with love and tenderness in the comfort of your own home. What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than with a romantic dinner at home? The ultimate statement of affection, if done right, a romantic dinner at home can also be something quite out of the ordinary, perhaps a brand new reason to put on that little black dress and indulge.
When selecting the perfect menu for this romantic meal, it’s important to keep in mind that the whole point of a Valentine’s dinner at home is to be comfortable, to relax and to fully enjoy the meal you have prepared and the company of the person you love. Slaving over the stove the entire night or worrying that the chocolate soufflé you have baking in the oven might fall should you set your wine glass down too hard pretty much drains all romance out of the equation. So rather than attempting to whip up the most intricate recipe or the most delicate of desserts, choosing a main course that is at once delectable and stress-free, a dessert that is sweet and simple, and a bubbly cocktail to wash it all down is definitely the way to go.
My guide to a romantic Valentine’s dinner at home starts with the perfect main dish: Beef Bourguignon. Hearty and soul satisfying, this wine-rich beef stew is loaded with earthy mushrooms, smoky bacon and sweet pearl onions. I have two favorite recipes for this classic French dish: one is the ever-so-famous Boeuf a la Bourguignonne from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” and the other comes from Food Network star Ina Garten’s “Barefoot in Paris.” Whether you follow one of these recipes strictly or pull elements from the two, it’s pretty much impossible to mess this one up.
The ingredient list includes diced bacon, cubes of beef, mushrooms, carrots, onions, garlic, red wine, tomato paste, beef broth and, of course, butter. The essential preparation involves rendering the bacon, sautéing the vegetables in the fat, adding the beef, stock, and flavorings, and letting everything marry together in the pot. Each recipe has its own nuances, but the end result is the same: a thick, rich, meaty French stew that is as easy to make as it is to devour. Best of all, it tastes even better the day after it’s been prepared. Simply pull this masterpiece together the day before Valentine’s Day, allowing it to simmer for about one to three hours on the stove or in the oven so that all of the flavors can meld together and the beef can become perfectly tender. On Valentine’s Day night, heat it on the stove for about 30 minutes before serving it. While the stew bubbles way on the stove, sit back and relax. Served with a thick slice of sourdough toast rubbed with garlic, or some buttered noodles to soak up the beautiful sauce, Beef Bourguignon is the ultimate Valentine’s treat.
To wash down this decadent meal, a light and bubbly cocktail is the perfect complement. Champagne or Prosecco mixed with elderflower liqueur, a splash of tangy grapefruit juice and a sprig of mint is an elegant drink that does not compete with the flavors in the dish. These other romantic cocktail ideas, courtesy of Turning Leaf, are easy to make and are fun alternatives to the typical glass of wine.
Ruby Red Spritzer
2 slices ruby red grapefruit
1 ounce pineapple juice
3 ounces ginger ale
3 ounces Turning Leaf Chardonnay
Combine grapefruit, pineapple juice and chardonnay in a pint glass with ice. Cover and shake well. Pour into desired glass and top off with ginger ale.
Romantic Red Sangria
1 pint cherries
1 pint raspberries
1 pint strawberries
Bottle of Turning Leaf Merlot
1 liter of black cherry soda
Place cherries, raspberries and strawberries in a large pitcher. Pour in merlot and let stand at room temperature for about one hour. Add black cherry soda. Serve over ice.
For dessert, I recommend something on the lighter side to round out this rather rich main dish. I always enjoy a bowl of frozen yogurt, Greek yogurt, or vanilla ice cream served with roasted fruit. You can use halved stone fruits such as peaches and plums drizzled with honey and cinnamon, or chunks of pineapple sprinkled with brown sugar and cracked black pepper. Place the fruit in a baking dish (cut-side up for the stone fruit) and pop into the oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the fruit is soft, bubbly and caramelized. The fruit can be placed in the oven right before serving the main course, and will be hot and ready to eat as soon as the stew has been devoured. Spooned over a cold scoop of ice cream or yogurt, this fruity dessert is a refreshing end to a hearty meal.
Preparing a romantic Valentine’s dinner at home like the one I’ve just described is almost as easy as making a reservation at a fancy restaurant, not to mention a whole lot less expensive. So rather than bundling up and braving the cold weather only to share a meal with 50 other couples who are sitting on top of you, why not try something new for a change? Show your special someone how much you care by preparing a homemade feast, and indulging in a relaxing, love-filled evening right in your very own home.